Photo from flickr, KateWares

How does gratitude open my heart?

While at Loyola University Chicago, learning about Ignatian Spirituality, I was introduced to the examen as a form of prayer. Recently, I have returned to this practice.

In our sessions on contemplative prayer with Patience Robbins, we have been developing a deeper understanding of prayer. We have also been learning to cultivate our own prayer practice, which is so essential to our daily lives, especially on mission overseas.

Having discussed the examen with Patience, I returned to this practice and chose to start my personal prayer in a space of gratitude.

I’ve been amazed by the transformation.

When I start my personal prayer with gratitude for everything and anything in my life, I can feel my heart open up. Especially during this formation time, I find I am often filled with gratitude. I am grateful for the community here at Franciscan Mission Service, for the support of friends and family, and for the education that we receive here daily.

In small and big ways, I find so many reasons to be grateful. It is so joyful to enter an intentional space of gratitude, to celebrate the many gifts I receive every day. And I have found that once I fill that intentional space with gratitude, soon it over flows into the rest of my daily life.

I remember my professor of Liberation Theology in El Salvador, Sr. Peggy O’Neill, telling us every week to live with an “attitude of gratitude.” Now I feel as if I am beginning to understand what she meant.

It seems to change everything.

When I take time to be grateful, my eyes are opened to the many ways that God is working in my own life and in the lives of each person that I encounter. When I express gratitude, I feel myself more in tune with what I value most, primarily, my relationships with others.

In the practicing the examen, I also ask myself, “How am I struggling?” or “What I am least grateful for in my life?”

And I have found that the gratitude from which I started my prayer offers perspective on those places in my life where I am struggling. That in the places where I struggle most to see the good in others and myself, I can refer to my experience of gratitude. And in that space I am constantly reminded of the healing that comes from being open to the truth inside each of us.

Fr. Richard Rohr, OFM, says, “As soon as we’ve found our center, we no longer have to defend our boundaries.”

The examen, as a space to honor both the gifts and the struggles I experience, invites me to dwell more deeply in that center, and thus to be more open to the gifts and struggles of others.

From St. Paul, Minnesota, Annemarie graduated from Loyola University in Chicago in 2012 with a degree in Communications.  Possessing a strong interest in social justice issues and some experience with international travel, she is preparing to go to Bolivia on mission for two years.